Exercise could help fight infections

By Adam Florance
Friday, 28 April, 2017

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Forget about bed rest — the best thing for fighting off infections is hitting the gym, according to a team of researchers from Griffith University.

Analysing the collated results of studies completed between 1989 and 2016, the team from Griffith’s Menzies Health Institute Queensland determined that even moderate exercise increases the number of white blood cells in circulation, helping to fight infection and heal injuries.

Griffith’s Dr Adam Szlezak said: “Further research is, of course, needed, but we can see that exercise immunology has the ability to make people totally rethink their reasons for exercise. It may not just be for fitness and losing weight; it could also overhaul our whole approach to our health.”

The Griffith team already knew that walking for 20 minutes a day could reduce the likelihood of upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) by stimulating the immune system but the most interesting discovery was that specific doses of resistance exercise appear to improve immuno-surveillance in a way that might be targeted.

“It may even eventually be possible to prescribe resistance exercise in a healthy limb to improve the transport of white blood cells to an injured limb, aiding with healing and effectively changing the way we manage injuries.”

Even a low dose of thumb resistance exercise increased the number of key white blood cells in circulation.

The team believe that regular moderate intensity gym sessions of 20 to 45 minutes may be enough to stave off URTI and other common infections: “Importantly, we also found that at higher dosages of exercise (such as a circuit protocol), there appeared to be a more rapid and greater number of these cells in the blood.”

The team combined data from 16 previous studies in which subjects had undertaken various resistance exercises: “We combined the data from all relevant scientific publications, including two of our own original articles, to conduct a stringent systematic analysis of the resistance exercise research.”

Analysis of all 16 studies determined that both resistance exercise and aerobic exercise can increase the surveillance potential of our immune system.

“Finally, as we now know that exercise can markedly affect the number of white blood cells in the circulation for a short period of time, general practitioners requesting full blood counts for patients are advised to recommend that their patients abstain from all forms of exercise in the hours prior to blood collection.”

This research was published in Immunology Letters.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Melpomene

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